Overfishing is jeopardizing a global tuna industry worth more than $42bn (£29bn), according to the first assessment of its kind. A report produced by the Pew Charitable Trusts has highlighted the significant revenues that fishermen, processors and retailers are generating from severely depleted species of tuna.
Taken together, the seven most commercially important tuna species – skipjack, albacore, bigeye, yellowfin, atlantic bluefin, Pacific bluefin and southern bluefin – generated $12bn (£8bn) for fishermen in 2014, while the full value, including the total amount paid by the final consumer at supermarkets and restaurants around the world, was estimated to be $42bn (£29bn).
“It’s no secret that tuna are big business,” said Amanda Nickson, Pew’s director of global tuna conservation. “Now, for the first time, we’re able to put an actual price on what’s at stake in the fight for the conservation and sustainable management of these commercially and ecologically important fish.”
The report also highlights how tuna is a vital source of revenue to fishing communities, particularly Pacific Islands. The total catch in the Pacific Ocean was estimated at $22bn in 2014.
Pew says that income will be at risk unless companies and governments, particularly Japan, US and those in the EU, can agree to catch limits that allow stocks to recover. Five out of the eight tuna species are at risk of extinction due to overfishing, according to conservationists.
“The tussle at the moment is a lot to do with the fact that as the less affluent players, particularly the islands in the Pacific, realise the value of the resource they have, they will want to take a stake in that. And those who have historically fished it do not necessarily want to give that stake away.
“We don’t want to see tuna stocks depleting because the countries involved can’t agree sensibly on the management of them,” said Nickson, who called for scientifically-informed catch limits to enable heavily depleted stocks, such as Pacific bluefin tuna, to recover and prevent others such as skipjack becoming overfished.
Most of the tuna industry is currently paying “lip service” to efforts to better manage tuna stocks, said Nickson, but she praised the steps being taken by some UK retailers and processors. Tesco, Sainsbury’s, Asda, M&S, Morrisons and Co-op recently backed a call to cut yellowfin tuna catches in the Indian Ocean in an effort to help stocks recover.
“You’ve got two ways that we are going to see change in the supply chain,” said Nickson. “Either a regulatory process saying you can only catch this much, forcing the industry to adjust to that, or you are going to see market pressure from retailers saying we don’t want to purchase from any place that can’t actually demonstrate specific sustainability steps. Consumers should be able to buy tuna and not have to worry about where it is from. It is up to retailers and processors to better manage stocks.”
Much of the concern from conservation experts in recent years has centred on bluefin tuna stocks. Although not yet classified by the International Union for Conservation of Nature as endangered (it is listed as vulnerable), Pacific bluefin tuna has seen stocks depleted to less than 3% of its historic levels. It was just under 4% in 2012.
The report estimated that the 17,000 metric tonnes of pacific bluefin caught in 2014 had a final value of $770m. In comparison, the 2.8m metric tonnes of skipjack caught in 2014, not currently overfished and most often used for canned tuna, had an end final value of $17.7bn.
What are the basic characteristics of the bluefin tuna?
Located in the Mediterranean Sea; Iceland to the Canary Islands; and Newfoundland, Canada, to the Gulf of Mexico.
Typically they swim from 1.74-4.5 mph to 9.20 mph. When chasing prey or to avoid predators, they swim up to 44-62 mph. They can dive to depths of 3,280 feet.
Size for average mature adult:
Length ranges from 6 feet 7 inches – 8 feet 2 inches; maximum 21 feet.
Weight 600 lbs.; maximum 1,600 lbs. In the 1970’s the average weight was 1,200 lbs. and now the average is 600 lbs.
They are” warm-blooded” – this keeps its core muscles warm (used for power and steady swimming).
They can live up to 30 years, but few survive this long due to rampant overfishing. They eat herring, mackerel, hake, menhaden, squid and crustaceans. Their predators are orcas (killer whales) and sharks.
What is the state of bluefin tuna?
Since the early 1900’s when factory fishing was introduced, the bluefin tuna numbers have been reduced by 90% and in the Mediterranean it is down to 97%.
Between 1970 and 1998, there was 70% drop. This shows the rapid acceleration of the decline.
In 2009, 72% decline in the Eastern Atlantic, and 82% decline in the Western Atlantic.
In that same year, Monaco formally declared them as endangered.
At a United Nations-backed conference aimed at regulating international trade in endangered species, the total ban on bluefin tuna fishing and trading was rejected on March 18,2010. The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) voted 68 to 20 with 30 European abstentions.
Who is fishing them?
Australia, Cape Verde, Croatia, Cypress, Greece, Italy, Indonesia, Japan, Libya, Malta, Mexico, Oman, Panama, the Philippines, Portugal, Spain, Tunisia, and Turkey.
Half are operating in the Med. Japan and Australia are the largest fisheries.
Who is buying the bluefin tuna?
They are used for sushi, sashimi and steaks.
They are prepared in sushi as hon maguro or toro (tuna belly).
It is a $7.2 billion industry around the world. The largest consumers are Japan.
The suppliers are marine fisheries, not fish farms.
Toxins in bluefin tuna?
There are elevated levels of mercury and PCBs in bluefin tuna. It should be avoided.
Why is bluefin tuna crucial?
Bluefin tuna matures slowly and they are less resilient to fishing pressure. As part of the ocean’s ecosystem, they are needed for preys and predators in the oceans.
How are the bluefin tuna fisheries regulated?
The International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT) is an inter-governmental fishery organization responsible for the conservation of tunas and tuna-like species in the Atlantic Ocean and its adjacent seas.
Unfortunately, the international organization managed the underreporting of juvenile catches and illegal fishing. The fishing takes way exceed the international quotas.
How are they caught? Overfishing with hi-tech commercial fishing fleets and rampant illegal fishing will make the bluefin populations vanish from Mediterranean waters. They are in great danger.
The bluefin tuna were traditionally caught with traps. Currently, purse seines are used instead and then the fish are transferred to tuna farms in cages to be fattened up.
They are caught with purse seines, longlines, troll lines, and trap nets. Sometimes harpoons, handlines, pole-and-line, and nets.